33 mins. Time is off after Caelan Doris was held up short of the line by Owens. There are a couple of players receiving treatment which will give Wales some time to work out what they hell they do about this. Not crawling through rucks, for example.
32 mins. Keenan has a gentle canter back from a deep Liam Williams kick and after he’s stopped Bears in penalised for crawling through the ruck, clearly off his feet. Brainless.
30 mins. Ireland have an attack around halfway, once again showing the patterns and timing that have served them so well recently. This time McCloskey is put into a gap and they are up into the 22 before some imprecise breakdown work allows Wales to win the ball back and clear.
PENALTY! Wales 3 – 27 Ireland (Johnny Sexton)
27 mins. Wales’ EIGHTH (!!) penalty of the half is punished one more by the Ireland captain
24 mins. Another first, Wales have a good scrum on the Ireland 22 and this time Hawkins comes in on a lovely crash angle to rumble up to within feet of the line. The ball is quick to recycle to Biggar, but he’s static, grappled in the tackle then the Irish defenders swarm the breakdown meaning the Welsh 10 can do nothing but hold on and be penalised.
TRY! Wales 3 – 24 Ireland (James Lowe)
21 mins. For the first time, Wales have some decent phases in the Irish half. However, it’s notable that Ireland are putting very few into the ruck, leaving plenty defenders fanned out across the field so as the home side push it lateral a few too many times the green cover allows Lowe to push up, intercept and gallop in from 60 metres.
Sexton converts again.
PENALTY! Wales 3 – 17 Ireland (Johnny Sexton)
18 mins. Wales are not having a good time at the scrum, and the latest sees them collapse in the shadow of their own posts, allowing Sexton to restore the fourteen point gap with his boot.
PENALTY! Wales 3 – 14 Ireland (Dan Biggar)
14 mins. Faletau does a good job tidying up the scrum five to give Wales a couple of attacks in the Ireland 22. It’s the visitors’ turn to drift offside and Biggar wastes no time getting his side on the scoresheet from the tee.
12 mins. Ireland’s latest attack breaks down as Wales finally get up in the face of Sexton. The ball spills and Rio Dyer is first to it, hacks on and chases 30 metres, but just as it looks like he’s about to flop on it to score, Hugo Keenan times his dive perfectly to get to it first and defuse the situation
TRY! Wales 0 – 14 Ireland (James Ryan)
9 mins. The chance to kick sticks is spurned by Sexton and instead Ireland take a tap and go and take a few ramming carries up to the line from 5m. The third of them is from Ryan and he’s over.
Sexton slots the two.
The Irish forwards are destroying Wales in the ruck. This game is probably already over.
7 mins. Ireland have another lineout, this time midway in the Wales half, which is batted off the top to find Ringrose in midfield with a solid carry. Keenan is brought into the line up the left and the visitors are in the Wales 22 and up to eight phases before the red defence inevitably drift offside as they scramble manically.
Tadhg Beirne is receving some treatment.
TRY! Wales 0 – 7 Ireland (Caelan Doris)
2 mins. Solid lineout drill pulls the ball into the maul. After few seconds it’s released right and a few phases later Doris forces over from short. A solid start for Ireland that brings Wales to ground and splinters their early hope comprehensively.
1 min. Tomos Williams gathers the deep kick and sees it off but misses touch allowing to run it back. The ball is worked left to McCloskey and a delightful kick puts Liam WIlliams and Josh Adams under pressure. The winger do nowt but boot it out on the 5m.
Johnny Sexton sends the ball through the smoke plumes to get us underway.
HERE COME THE TEAMS!
The roof is on in Cardiff as the fireworks and flamethrowers welcome the teams to the pitch. Anthem time, then we’ll be off
Andy Farrell is here talking about the late loss of Jamison Gibson-Park, but as you might expect he’s not worried, thinks it’s “good for the group” and the opportunity it presents to Conor Murray and Craig Casey.
The rest of the interview is conducted with the energy and general appearance of a spiritually contented monk who still looks like he could do some damage if pushed.
Interim CEO of the WRU, Nigel Walker, is talking to the BBC about why he’s in the interim position in the first place. He’s outlining the steps being taken, including the independent review, to address the misogynistic culture in the Union highlighted in recent BBC Wales documentary.
Quell some of your nervous energy by having a gander at what our team or writers reckon on this years championship.
Any hopes and fears out there from Wales and Ireland fans as we embark into Rugby 2023? Let me know on the email or you can tweet if that’s more your bag.
Warren Gatland has taken the lead of Embrace by coming back to what he knows with his (second) first Wales selection. Unlike Embrace, however, this looks like something you may want to pay attention to as he’s mixed staggering amounts of experience -including new captain, Ken Owens – with a sprinkling of the exciting youth of Rio Dyer, Jac Morgan and Joe Hawkins in the starting XV. On the bench, Rhys Webb and Owen Williams make international returns, having been largely ignored under Pivac.
For Andy Farrell and Ireland it’s pretty much a CTRL-ALT-C, CTRL-ALT-V of the squad that delivered so much in 2022, with changes forced by injury in the main. Why wouldn’t you? Finlay Bealham is in for Tadhg Furlong, Stuart McCloskey is preferred to Bundee Aki in the centre with Robbie Henshaw not fit.
WALES: Liam Williams; Josh Adams, George North, Joe Hawkins, Rio Dyer; Dan Biggar, Tomos Williams; Gareth Thomas, Ken Owens (captain), Tomas Francis, Adam Beard, Alun Wyn Jones, Jac Morgan, Justin Tipuric, Taulupe Faletau.
Replacements: Scott Baldwin, Rhys Carre, Dillon Lewis, Dafydd Jenkins, Tommy Reffell, Rhys Webb, Owen Williams, Alex Cuthbert.
IRELAND: Hugo Keenan; Mack Hansen, Garry Ringrose, Stuart McCloskey, James Lowe; Johnny Sexton, Conor Murray; Andrew Porter, Dan Sheehan, Finlay Bealham, Tadhg Beirne, James Ryan, Peter O’Mahony, Josh van der Flier, Caelan Doris.
Replacements: Rob Herring, Dave Kilcoyne, Tom O’Toole, Iain Henderson, Jack Conan, Craig Casey, Ross Byrne, Bundee Aki.
Referee: Karl Dickson (RFU)
Assistant Referee 1: Angus Gardner (RA)
Assistant Referee 2: Luke Pearce (RFU)
TMO: Tom Foley (RFU)
And so it begins … not just this latest iteration of the Six Nations, but also 2023: the Year of the World Cup. From herein expect every move, injury, strategy and selection to usher in hot takes, indications of portent, and the clanging doom of Ireland fans dreading yet another unsatisfactory exit.
But before we get to all that there’s the small matter of this match in Cardiff, and the world’s oldest international rugby tournament to win for both teams.
Don’t call it a comeback, Gatland’s been (mostly) here for years. But this won’t stop the anticipation of the home nation reaching if not fever pitch, then certainly a few notes above the worst modern jazz being played on a lone tuba in an empty warehouse, which is where Wayne Pivac left them last year. Voices are quick to remind us that the Kiwi won a grand slam in his first tournament in 2008, merely a few months after taking the reins of Gareth Davies’s 2007 Rugby World Cup donkey derby. He can’t do it again, can he?
Ireland couldn’t be in a more different position. Cruising at the top of the world rankings with a settled head coach who has taken them there with an authority and fluidity to their playing style, while imbuing an iron-clad confidence that sees them to victory even when some of the former falls away. They are favourites for a reason.
All this conjecture will soon be booted in the air like a testing high ball, and we’ll see in a few hours who will grab it, shape it and set an early narrative in this Six Nations chapter of the 2023 rugby tome.